World report: Croatia

The author runs fascinating experiments in teaching philosophy to children and golden age people. This could inspire some semioticians to follow suit and introduce the philosophy of signs to younger and older minds than is usually the case. (Note of the Editor)

Practicing Philosophy

Zoran Kojcic
Zoran Kojcic

In late September, i attended International Perspectives of Philosophy Conference in Cres, Croatia. Among over a hundred academic philosophers i presented my research in field of philosophical counselling, presented school project i did with my students and at the end I facilitated philosophical cafe, a practice now widely spread in Europe and the rest of the world.

I forgot how it’s like with that sort of people, academics. They are used to giving lectures and long speeches, they aren’t used to dialogue with one another. I must admit, our philosophical cafe was complete disaster. Someone would think that academic philosophers would know how to argue one another, that they would know how to support their claims, that they aren’t affraid to speak. I guess these things happen…

Only one month before the Conference, i went to 2nd Philosophy Summer School, in Prvic, Croatia. I facilitated three philosophical workshops there and philosophical cafe. My audience were mainly high school students, with no background in philosophy. They were terrific! My colleague and cofacilitator for philosophical cafe, Bruno Curko, PhD (who introduced Philosophy with Children in Croatia), and i were surprised how well it went – our students liked the rules of philosophical cafe, they complied all the way, they were curious, asked questions all the time, considered every possible option and draw conclusions from what their colleagues said. Our role as facilitators was only to call out those who wanted to speak in right order – because everyone wanted to speak!

Earlier this year, at the begining of April, i facilitated my first philosophical cafe, in Bijelo Brdo, Croatia, during my Philosophy with Elders program. I designed that program in January as series of six philosophical practice workshops, as a way to introduce philosophy to senior citizens in my region. Association of Senior Citizens in Bijelo Brdo first accepted the program and were the first to do it in Croatia. We started with workshops which dealt with questioning skills, argumentation, conceptualisation, socratic dialogue and the like. At the end, we did philosophical cafe workshop. They prepared everything – some coffee, juice and some wine for every participant. Again, as with students, it was a splendid session, with philosophizing all around, inquiring different topics, with different worldviews, different ideas, all delivered in just right amounts of dialogue. I need to emphazise that participants of Philosophy with Elders program were designers, teachers, policemen and farmers – with no background in philosophy whatsoever.

Now, what makes a philosophical cafe with people who have no backgound in philosophy so successful, and with people with academic backgound in philosophy such a disaster? When one looks at it in a deeper sense, this is a question of difference between academic philosophy and philosophical practice. Academic philosophers, just as any other academics, are used to giving lectures, presenting papers and writing research or books. To put it simply – if academic philosopher gives a lecture, he is not doing philosophy, he is giving a lecture. If he is writing a research paper, he isn’t doing philosophy, but he is writing a research paper. There isn’t almost any philosophy left in academic philosophy. Nowadays, academics in Philosophy rarely produce something new, but rather interpret what others before them wrote, said or thought. Writing or speaking about what someone else said/wrote doesn’t mean you are doing philosophy – it only means you are writing/speaking about what someone else said or wrote. Simple as that. Recently, many criticized when Stephen Hawking anounced death of analytic philosophy. I don’t blame professor Hawking for such claims, but i would say that analytic, as well as academic, philosophy is rather useless than dead. It is no wonder that physics and technology are more and more popular among people, precisely because they have certain practical use in making everyday life easier. This is why people accept it and see it as positive trend. On the other side, no one will lead a better life with knowledge on early Hegel’s reflections on subjective spirit.

I am not arguing here that philosophy should be as popular as physics is today. I am arguing that philosophy should have it’s practical use in solving everday problems for ordinary people. By researching the field of philosophical practice i’ve discovered that it is possible for philosophy to be of use for everyone. Starting with Philosophical Counselling, skills like socratic dialogue are very useful in problem solving or coaching individuals and groups toward sustainable solutions. Philosophy with Children is a rewarding activity where philosophical skills are of essence if one wants to direct children toward critical thinking skills. Philosophizing with Elders was a revelation, both to me as facilitator and for them because they found completely new activity in their retirenment years. This counts as experience where young people learn from older people, and vice versa – the key aspect of philosophizing here was our dialogue. Everyone gets their chance to speak, but not to give us lectures – they have a task to give fresh, fast and resonable arguments to support their claims or to refute other’s claims. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, as long as they can defend it, question it or even change it if they are proven wrong. Excercizing their brain, thoughts and reasons, at the end of the program Elders told me that it felt great, they discovered new discipline and occupation for the future, and they asked of me if i come up with a new program to include them again.

Farmers, policemen, designers, teenagers, they all have the freedom to speak their mind, without fear of looking ‘stupid’ in front of others – and that is what we try to teach them, that they can’t be stupid, but that we all have the same abbilities of thinking. Academic philosophers were shy, affraid of something and confused. They didn’t speak with each other, but every one of them, when they dared to speak, hold a short speech, keeping it with same thoughts, without arguments, without refuting others, without any new moments or concepts.

Wittgenstein never read Aristotle. That fact should teach us that we don’t have to read Wittgenstein, or that we don’t have to spend our lives reading famous philosophers in order to do philosophy on our own. Like i stated before, if you are giving a lecture, then you are not doing philosophy, you are giving a lecture. Philosophy is present in philosophizing and philosophizing is a dialogue which questions, argues or defines objects, emotions, states, actions, concepts, ideas and the like. One should not be affraid of his own thoughts and arguments nor of whether or not they are wrong. Engaging in philosophical dialogue with others is what philosophizing is all about.

Academic philosophy is needed to obtain certain level of general philosophical education. Detailed research, therefore, serves us as means toward better understanding different views on historical figures in Philosophy. But, Philosophy shouldn’t be just about that. Our ability to interract with one another, exchange ideas and thoughts, question our views, argue our actions, should lead us toward different understanding of what philosophizing is and how we don’t need a degree in order to do it.

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